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Is Your Lawn Giving You A Hard Time? Let It Grow


Sarah Baker's yard is a nuisance. At least that's what the trustees of her township in central Ohio say. Baker and her partner have been letting their yard grow wild. They haven't mowed it since last year. Now the Baker's yard care has become the subject of national debate. Sarah Baker joins me to talk about both the outrage and the support that have germinated from her wild yard. Sarah, welcome to the program.

SARAH BAKER: (Laughter). Thanks for having me so much.

BLOCK: And if I were standing in your yard with you right now, what would we see?

BAKER: Oh, my gosh, you'd see such an array of of wildlife, so many wildflowers and bees and butterflies. I saw monarch earlier today. Yeah. It's just exploding with life.

BLOCK: And why have you decided to let your yard go wild?

BAKER: I feel too much of our land is simply unusable for wildlife. A mowed lawn, simply put, is habitat loss. It provides very little for wildlife to thrive.

BLOCK: Well, the trustee board of your township, St. Albans Township in Ohio, is not happy about this. They say it goes against state law which regulates nuisance properties. And I gather they have ordered you to mow. They safe if you don't mow, they're going to hire somebody to mow for you and send you the bill. Is that right?

BAKER: That was the situation, yes. And they were going by Ohio Revised Code section 505.87 which states that the trustees have the power to deem a property a nuisance. But there are absolutely no guidelines for them to follow of what constitutes an actual nuisance. So it was totally their call, you know? They were given the power by the state to decide for themselves.

BLOCK: So what did you do?

BAKER: We came to an agreement to lower the height of my yard to 8 inches. And that's just a number they came up with. Otherwise, they were were going to come in with Bush Hogs - large mowers - and just, you know, massacre everything down to the ground. And I had built such a thriving ecosystem. Ideally, I would like to be able to grow it taller than that and not have it deemed a nuisance.

BLOCK: Well, this story has gotten national attention. There was a piece in The Columbus Dispatch. And then you wrote an essay for The Washington Post. And there has been a huge response in the comments online.

BAKER: Yes (laughter).

BLOCK: And I've read through them. You're attackers there are saying, you know, this is a habitat for snakes and ticks and vermin and mosquitoes. Let me read you what one commenter said. The best thing is to buy property where you can have your own little slice of anarchy and leave those people who like the rules in peace. Are you hearing a lot of the same kinds of comments from the folks who live there with you in Ohio?

BAKER: It's mixed. I have a lot of support in my community. My immediate neighbors don't seem to mind I'm not sure where it's coming from, but I think it's just stemming from the fact that we just - we're really afraid of what we don't know. I've lived now with an un-mowed lawn. I don't have Lyme's disease. I don't have West Nile virus. It's hard for me now not to see mowed lawns as ugly. I see them as just an abomination. And I know for most people, the opposite is true. I mean, I used to feel that way. I used to think that it looked beautiful too. But now that I see all the nature that a mowed lawn displaces, it looks beautiful to me, my yard.

BLOCK: So for now, Sarah, your yard is 8 inches high. You can live with that?

BAKER: Ideally, I would like it to just grow how it wants to grow and let nature be the landscaper. But fortunately, when you stop mowing, lots of things come in. And there's many, many species of plants that are below the 8-inch height, like white clover and plantain, which are a great food source for bees and butterflies. So yes, I'm satisfied enough with this compromise, but ideally, I would like to just let nature do its thing completely.

BLOCK: Well, Sarah, thanks for talking with us about your wild yard there in...

BAKER: Yeah.

BLOCK: ...St. Albans Township, Ohio - appreciate it.

BAKER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.